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Books for the Toughest Times

Girl at sunset

I’ve been very fortunate not to have to visit the subject of death very often with my seven year old. We’ve lost a dearly loved housecat and we’ve discovered many fallen birds that we’ve given proper burials, but otherwise we’ve not yet endured the crushing losses of those we hold dearest. I’ve often wondered how I’d handle the subject with him. Honestly, if I had my way I’d just avoid the subject altogether. Forever. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

It’s often very difficult to help a child cope with loss; sometimes we don’t know how to process the grief ourselves. Dealing with difficult subjects vicariously through the characters in stories can sometimes help us find the words to discuss what’s happened with our little ones. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes there are just tears. And that’s okay too.

I hope these books help when the time is right, no matter how great or small the loss. Be forewarned, some deal directly with the death of a loved one. Some deliver a more abstract approach or are just about loss in general. Some are hopeful and uplifting. Some are brutally honest. Some mention afterlife. Some treat death with finality. Some deal with the raw emotions that children experience. Some depict children who are more distant. Some are about pets. Some are about people. It’s a smattering of books that I, quite frankly, hope you don’t have to read very often. Nevertheless, I feel they are important to have at the ready.

It was sometimes excruciatingly difficult to select these books. I didn’t really want to assemble this list at all, but I tried to think honestly and openly about the books I’d want to share with my children should they be confronted with the worst. I hope they might help a little one in your life deal with the sorrow of loss. Either presently, or sometime in the future you’re likely to need books like these. Please pre-read the following materials before sharing them with your child to make sure they are appropriate for your specific situation. Until next time, keep reading together.

The Dandelion’s Tale by Kevin Sheehan (illustrated by Rob Dunleavy)

The Dandelion’s Tale is simply one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read. It’s also one of the toughest as it deals with the theme of life’s natural cycle. It handles the issue delicately and ends with a strong positive vibe, but be forewarned that Sparrow’s friend Dandelion is lost forever as the story unfolds. Perfect to read with a little one after a funeral or wake.

I Love You Always and Forever by Jonathan Emmett (illustrated by Daniel Howarth)

I Love You Always and Forever reminds me so much of Guess How Much I Love You. It’s especially perfect for a young child that realizes he or she must grow up eventually…and for the caregiver that wants to communicate their “no matter what” love.

Desser the Best Ever Cat by Maggie Smith

Desser the Best Ever Cat is simply perfect for children that have endured the loss of their favorite feline friend. I read this book, cried, then wished I had shared it with my son a few years ago when our beloved Gus passed away.

The Scar by Charlotte Moundic (illustrated by Olivier Tallec)

The Scar depicts raw emotion as a child grieves the loss of his mother. There is a sense of both finality and closure as the child in the story learns his own way to cope with the reality that his mother is never coming back.

Missing Mommy by Rebecca Cobb

I’d say Missing Mommy is the teensiest bit more hopeful and the tiniest bit less raw than The Scar. While it also deals with the unguarded emotions a child feels when they lose a loved one, it’s a bit different because it clearly depicts the remaining family members working as a team to try picking up the pieces.

Always Remember by Cece Meng (illustrated by Jago)

Always Remember deals with death a little less directly. One day Old Turtle’s friends gather to remember the beautiful life their friend lived. Whale remembers when Old Turtle kept her company. Starfish recounts the time when Old Turtle rescued her from a storm. As the friends grieve they also realize that Old Turtle hadn’t just been kind and fun, he’d actually made the world a better place.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

Love You Forever is also a lovely little book about growing up that is honestly more appealing to adults than to children coping with loss up until the very end. As the young man in the story becomes an adult, he discovers that though he’s lost his mother, he’s able to keep her alive be carrying on her legacy with his own daughter.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I wouldn’t normally include a novel in my list, but I just finished reading Charlotte’s Web with my seven year old a few weeks ago and felt compelled to share. It’s a beautiful classic that touches on themes like kindness, cruelty, innocence, civility, friendship, hope, and even death. It covers the panoply of human and animal existence and is a story that no childhood should be without.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst (illustrated by Geoff Stevenson)

The Invisible String is gimmicky, yet touching. This one is best for older children, as younger children probably won’t understand the symbolism. Death definitely is not the main idea of the book, but it is packaged alongside the idea that we are all connected to the ones we love, past and present, by an invisible thread of love.

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